Monday, October 2, 2017

"Probable Cause" Prevents Son-in-Law/Agent from Suing for Malicious Prosecution in Elder Fraud Case

The case of Fisher v. King, in federal court in Pennsylvania, strikes me as unusual on several grounds.  It is a civil rights case, alleging malicious prosecution, arising from an investigation of transferred funds from elderly parents, one of whom was in a nursing home, diagnosed with "dementia and frequent confusion."  

Son-in-law John Fisher was financial advisor for his wife's parents, both of whom were in their 80s. He and his wife were charged with "theft by deception, criminal conspiracy, securing execution of documents by deception and deceptive/fraudulent business practices" by Pennsylvania criminal authorities, following an investigation of circumstances under which Fisher's mother-in-law and her husband transferred almost $700k in funds to an account allegedly formed by Fisher with his wife and sister-in-law as the only named account owners.  A key allegation was that at the time of the transfer, the father-in-law was in a locked dementia unit, where he allegedly signed a letter authorizing the transfer, prepared by Fisher, but presented to him by his wife, Fisher's mother-in-law.  The mother-in-law later challenged the transaction as contrary to her understanding and intention.

Son-in-law Fisher, his wife, and his wife's sister were all charged with the fraud counts.  They initially raised as defense that the transactions were part of the mother's larger financial plan, including a gift by the mother to her daughters, but not to her son, their brother.  

As described in court documents, shortly before trial on the criminal charges the two sisters apparently agreed to return the funds to their mother, and, with the "aggrieved party" thus made whole, Fisher and his wife entered into a Non-Trial Disposition that resulted in dismissed of all criminal charges. At that point, you might think that everyone in the troubled family would wipe their brows, say "phew," and head back to their respective homes.

Not so fast.  Fisher then sued the Assistant District Attorney and the investigating police officer in federal court alleging violations under Section 1983 -- malicious prosecution and abuse of process. 

Continue reading

October 2, 2017 in Cognitive Impairment, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Property Management, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

It's All About Identity Theft These Days

This is not an elder law specific topic so if that doesn't interest you, stop reading now (we have plenty of elder law specific posts in the archives). It seems like every week (if not more often) we read about a data breach. The one gathering all the headlines right now is the Equifax breach, which I'm sure you all have heard about (unless you are one of the ones without power Post-Irma).  Having been a victim of ID theft and the Equifax breach, I'm a little wound up about these issues so forgive me if I get a little too "enthused" discussing this. Within 11 minutes today I got two agency emails warning me about ID theft. Social Security sent out a note about Protecting Your Social Security. Here are some suggestions from SSA:

  • Open your personal my Social Security account....
  • If you already have a my Social Security account, but haven’t signed in lately, take a moment to login to easily take advantage of our second method to identify you each time you log in. This is in addition to our first layer of security, a username and password....
  • If you know your Social Security information has been compromised, and if you don’t want to do business with Social Security online, you can use our Block Electronic Access You can block any automated telephone and electronic access to your Social Security record...

The second email I got was a consumer alert from NAIC.  Identity Theft: Protect Yourself in wake of breaches, hacks and cyber stalkers explains

Big data is big business. But it can also lead to bigger headaches when large-scale breaches expose personal information. Large companies including insurers and credit bureaus have been the victims of cyber thieves who accessed private customer information. Most recently, the Equifax breach of could affect 143 million Americans.

Identity theft occurs when a person uses your personal information to commit fraud or unlawful activity. Using your social security number or date of birth, someone may open new credit card or bank account in your name, and even take out a loan using your personal information. Affected consumers can help protect themselves with identity theft insurance—or by using safeguards provided by the impacted company. The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) offers these consumer protection tips.

The tips include what not to carry in your wallet, what to do if your identity has been stolen,  not to proactively protect yourself against identity theft and the pros and cons of purchasing identity theft insurance.

I'm just saying now... this isn't going to be the last time I write you about this.  Hopefully none of you will be in my boat.  Safe travels through cyber space.

September 27, 2017 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Other, Web/Tech | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Dispute Between Texas Senior Living Providers Sheds Light on Marketing Labels Such as "Assisted Living"

We have written on many legal issues that arise from the attempt by the senior care living industry to market their housing products.  For example, see here, here and here for coverage of recent disputes and proposals affecting so-called "assisted living" or "personal care" providers.

Recently In Texas, two competitors have been arguing over the definition of assisted living.  

In LMV-AL Ventures, LLC d/b/a The Harbor at Lakeway vs. Lakeway Overlook, LLC., a licensed assisted living facility, Harbor, is attempting to block operations by a new competitor, LTIL, arguing that despite the competitor's attempts to self-identify as offering only "independent living," it is really an unlicensed assisted living community.  Harbor earlier had negotiated with the developers of the large-scale community for a deed restriction that would have prevented a competitor offering "assisted living" from moving in.  

On May 20, 2017, the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas denied Harbor's motion for  preliminary injunctive relief, concluding that Harbor had failed to satisfy its burden to establish "a substantial likelihood of success on the merits."

Part of what is interesting in this dispute is the magnitude of Harbor's efforts to prove their theory that LTIL was an assisted living community in disguise.  Harbor hired a private investigator to pose as a prospective client for LTIL.  The investigator tape-recorded a sales representative for LTIL.  

Arguably, it  seems the representative walked a very narrow line between emphasizing ways in which the planned community would meet the assistance needs of an older and potentially disabled client, while also attempting to characterize the menu of services available for purchase from an on-site home-health company as more affordable than the similar services offered by an "assisted living" facility.

 During the meeting, Ms. Parker described some of the amenities and services LTIL expected to offer. She explained that LTIL intended to offer three meals a day for residents prepared by an onsite chef, housekeeping, and transportation services. . . . Ms. Parker also described how LTIL features 140 apartments with a variety of floor plans. . . .  Ms. Parker stated Capitol [a "home health provider compamy]would be renting space inside LTIL and could provide care such as bathing assistance an elderly resident might need. . . .  She indicated personnel would staff the concierge desk twenty-four hours a day and residents would be given a pendant to call for assistance.  

Ms. Parker also explained the difference between LTIL and an assisted living facility. According to Ms. Parker, “with[ ] assist[ed] living you're paying a little bit more money but you're also getting care givers that are there on site, uh, all hours of the day. ... and you kind of pay for, the different services that you need. Some medication reminders, bathing and stuff like that. Uh, our community is an independent living.... so the residents that live there are pretty much independent. We don't provide caregivers to help do these things all the time.” . . .  Ms. Parker further described how a resident may later need to move to a place that “can give her more care or an assisted living [facility]” when she needs more help. 
 
One one level, the case demonstrates the level of competition that exists among companies marketing senior living properties to prospective residents.  Lots of providers are trying to be "the best choice" for aging adults.
 
But, on another level, the case shines a light on why states often do attempt to regulate senior care providers beyond the usual "nursing home" identity.
 
Without clear and enforceable rules about how a provider can market to the public, it seems likely that sales representatives could be tempted to fudge the line of what their facility offers, to match the prospective resident's desires about services and price.
 
Indeed, misrepresentation is at the heart of the allegations in the California class action case we discussed earlier this month, filed by care-needing residents against Brookdale Senor Living's "assisted living" operations, alleging unfair trade practices and consumer rights violations.  

September 19, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Housing, Property Management, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Frustrated Expectations and Costs-of-Care in Assisted Living

We often write on this Blog about concerns or even scandals in "nursing home" care for seniors. But, increasingly senior care spans a wide spectrum of formats and identities, and the SNFs of old, both good and bad, are increasingly outnumbered by newer names.  "Assisted Living" facilities -- traditionally positioned somewhere between skilled care and independent living -- are now often the target of concerns and lawsuits.

Reading the complaint in the latest suit, a class action filed in federal court in July 2017 in California against Brookdale Senior Living Inc. and Brookdale Senior Living Communities, Inc., I can see a central frustration, regardless of any issue of poor or negligent care.  Brookdale is one of the largest, if not the largest providers of assisted living, especially after it acquired another large assisted living operator, Emeritus.  The named individual plaintiffs, who describe their extensive impairments, including physical and mental disabilities, also describe their expectations about receiving appropriate care in "assisted living" at an affordable rate.  They allege, for example:

Assisted Living facilities are intended to provide a level of care appropriate for those who are unable to live by themselves but who do not have medical conditions requiring more extensive nursing care.

 

In recent years, [Defendant] has increasingly been accepting and retaining more residents with conditions and care needs that were once handled almost exclusively in skilled nursing facilities.  This has allowed [Defendant] to increase not only the potential resident pool but also the amounts of money charged to residents and/or their family members.

The plaintiffs complain that rates charged, alleged to range between "approximately $4,000 to $10,000 per person per month," increased at a rate of  6% to 7% percent per year in each of the last two years, at the same time that staffing levels dropped to a critical, allegedly unsafe level.  

At the core of the complaint is the frustration that residents are not being provided the services they need.  The legal theories include violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act, state civil rights and consumer protection laws, unfair trade practices laws, and California's Elder Financial Abuse laws, all leading to what I see as a fundamental question:  

Can Assisted Living operators be held liable for failure to provide skilled care to residents they allegedly "know" need such care, or is the less-than-skilled label and license to operate a defense against such liability?

The Brookdale defendants deny the allegations of fault.    For more, see  Largest Assisted Living Chain in U.S. Sued for Poor Care of Elderly from California Healthline.

 

September 12, 2017 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Jimmo v. Sebelius-Is the End in Sight?

CMS has released a new webpage as part of its settlement of the Jimmo case. The Center for Medicare Advocacy press release explains that "[t]he Jimmo webpage is the final step in a court-ordered Corrective Action Plan, designed to reinforce the fact that Medicare does cover skilled nursing and skilled therapy services needed to maintain a patient’s function or to prevent or slow decline. Improvement or progress is not necessary as long as skilled care is required. The Jimmo standards apply to home health care, nursing home care, outpatient therapies, and, to a certain extent, for care in Inpatient Rehabilitation Facilities/Hospitals."

The CMS Jimmo website

 reminds the Medicare community of the Jimmo Settlement Agreement (January 2013), which clarified that the Medicare program covers skilled nursing care and skilled therapy services under Medicare’s skilled nursing facility, home health, and outpatient therapy benefits when a beneficiary needs skilled care in order to maintain function or to prevent or slow decline or deterioration (provided all other coverage criteria are met).  Specifically, the Jimmo Settlement Agreement required manual revisions to restate a “maintenance coverage standard” for both skilled nursing and therapy services under these benefits:

Skilled nursing services would be covered where such skilled nursing services are necessary to maintain the patient's current condition or prevent or slow further deterioration so long as the beneficiary requires skilled care for the services to be safely and effectively provided.

Skilled therapy services are covered when an individualized assessment of the patient's clinical condition demonstrates that the specialized judgment, knowledge, and skills of a qualified therapist (“skilled care”) are necessary for the performance of a safe and effective maintenance program.  Such a maintenance program to maintain the patient's current condition or to prevent or slow further deterioration is covered so long as the beneficiary requires skilled care for the safe and effective performance of the program. 

The Jimmo Settlement Agreement may reflect a change in practice for those providers, adjudicators, and contractors who may have erroneously believed that the Medicare program covers nursing and therapy services under these benefits only when a beneficiary is expected to improve.  The Jimmo Settlement Agreement is consistent with the Medicare program’s regulations governing maintenance nursing and therapy in skilled nursing facilities, home health services, and outpatient therapy (physical, occupational, and speech) and nursing and therapy in inpatient rehabilitation hospitals for beneficiaries who need the level of care that such hospitals provide.

The website provides links to added resources, FAQs and pdfs of resources. 

September 7, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, September 3, 2017

Early Alert from CMS-SNF Abuse

Here's something to give you pause. The HHS Office of Inspector General has released an early alert. The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Has Inadequate Procedures To Ensure That Incidents of Potential Abuse or Neglect at Skilled Nursing Facilities Are Identified and Reported in Accordance With Applicable Requirements (A-01-17-00504)  dated August 24, 2017, 

alert[s] [the CMS administrator about] ... the preliminary results of our ongoing review of potential abuse or neglect of Medicare beneficiaries in skilled nursing facilities (SNFs). This audit is part of the ongoing efforts of the Office of Inspector General (OIG) to detect and combat elder abuse. The objectives of our audit are to (1) identify incidents of potential1 abuse or neglect of Medicare beneficiaries residing in SNFs and (2) determine whether these incidents were reported and investigated in accordance with applicable requirements.

The 14 page letter provides a lot of detail about the situation and offers a number of recommendations, including immediate action: "implement procedures to compare Medicare claims for [ER] treatment with claims for SNF services to identify incidents of potential abuse or neglect of Medicare beneficiaries residing in SNFs and periodically provide the details of this analysis to the Survey Agencies for further review and ... continue to work with ... HHS ... to receive the delegation of authority to impose the civil monetary penalties and exclusion provisions of section 1150B." Longer term the alert suggests new regulations among other ideas.

 

September 3, 2017 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Friday, July 21, 2017

Filial Friday: Elderly NJ Parents Held Not Liable to Pay Care for Disabled Adult Son in PA

In the latest chapter of an ongoing dispute between a specialized care facility, Melmark, Inc., and the older parents of a disabled adult son, Pennsylvania's intermediate Superior Court of Appeals has ruled in favor of the parents.  

The July 19, 2017 appellate decision in Melmark v. Schutt is based on choice of law principles, analyzing whether New Jersey's more limited filial support law or Pennsylvania's broader filial law controlled.  If applied, New Jersey law "would shield the [parents] from financial responsibility for [their son's] care because they are over age 55 and Alex is no longer a minor." By contrast, "Pennsylvania's filial support law...would provide no age-based exception to parental responsibility to pay for care rendered to an indigent adult child."

The parents and the son were all, as stipulated to the court, residents of New Jersey.  New Jersey public funding paid from the son's  specialized care needs at Melmark's Pennsylvania facility for some 11 years.  However, when, as part of a "bring our children home" program, New Jersey cut the funding for cross-border placements, the parents, age 70 and 71 year old, opposed return of their 31-year old son, arguing lack of an appropriate placement.  Eventually Melmark returned their son to New Jersey against the parents' wishes, with an outstanding bill for unpaid care totaling more than $205,000, incurred over his final 14 months at Melmark.

Both the Pennsylvania trial and appellate courts ruled against the facility, concluding that "the New Jersey statutory scheme reflects a legislative purpose to protect its elderly parents from financial liability associated with the provision of care for their public assistance-eligible indigent children under the present circumstances."  The courts rejected application of Pennsylvania's law as controlling.

This is a tough case, with hard-line positions on the law staked out by both sides.  One cannot expect facilities to provide quality care for free.  On the other side, one can empathize with families who face limited local care choices and huge costs.

Ultimately, I anticipate these kinds of cross-border "family care and cost" disputes becoming more common in the future for care-dependent family members, as the impact of federal funding cuts trickle down to states with uneven resources of their own.  Some of these problems won't see the courtroom, as facilities will likely resist any out-of-state placement where payment is not guaranteed by family members, old or young.  

July 21, 2017 in Consumer Information, Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Housing, Medicaid, Social Security, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Paying for Help at Home

Governing ran a recent story about how states will pay for in-home care for their residents who are elders. As Demand for At-Home Care Grows, States Debate How to Pay for It  considers that aging Boomers may not want to reside in nursing homes and if they stay at home, they will need care at  home.  With a likely greater demand for inhome care, how will it be delivered and who will pay?

[F]iguring out how to pay for more home-based care is mostly left up to the states. Medicaid is the primary payer for home- and community-based care, although states can decide whether or not they’ll offer the coverage. All 50 states and the District of Columbia do have home- and community-based programs of some type, but most states have waiting lists for their programs. Meanwhile, 59 percent of Medicaid funding goes to nursing homes, where about half of those in long-term care receive their services. “Nursing home institutions are a powerful player in the health-care setting, so there’s long been political pressure to not pay for more home health care,” says [Kevin] Prindiville [, executive director of Justice in Aging].

The article highlights California and Washington state, at opposite ends of the spectrum in handling this issue. Waivers may help, or shifting money through legislation that gives flexibility.

July 19, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Nursing Home Quality of Care An Ongoing Issue for Some Facilities

I read this article last week in the New York Times (also published by the Kaiser Health News), the topic of which is something we should consider seriously.  Poor Patient Care at Many Nursing Homes Despite Stricter Oversight discusses Medicare's Special Focus status.

While special focus status is one of the federal government’s strictest forms of oversight, nursing homes that were forced to undergo such scrutiny often slide back into providing dangerous care, according to an analysis of federal health inspection data. Of 528 nursing homes that graduated from special focus status before 2014 and are still operating, slightly more than half — 52 percent — have since harmed patients or put patients in serious jeopardy within the past three years.

The article highlights some individuals' experiences, with the basis of the article concerning the Special Focus program. 

Special focus facility status is reserved for the poorest-performing facilities out of more than 15,000 skilled nursing homes. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, or C.M.S., assign each state a set number of slots, roughly based on the number of nursing homes. Then state health regulators pick which nursing homes to include.

More than 900 facilities have been placed on the watch list since 2005. But the number of nursing homes under special focus at any given time has dropped by nearly half since 2012, because of federal budget cuts. This year, the $2.6 million budget allows only 88 nursing homes to receive the designation, though regulators identified 435 as warranting scrutiny.

The article also discusses lapses by those facilities once on the watch list, how a facility earns its way off the watch list and how long it typically takes to do so and the staffing ratios in such facilities.

Background information about the special focus initiative can be found on the CMS website. You can find the list of special focus facilities on CMS website. For example, here is the one published in June of 2017.

July 18, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Housing, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, May 8, 2017

Multi-Disciplinary Team Toolkit

The Elder Justice Initiative (EJI) has announced the release of  a guide and toolkit for creating Multi-Disciplinary Teams (MDT).  The EJI has an MDT Technical Assistance Center (or MDT TAC). EJI is also offering a free webinar to help users get started creating an MDT.  The email announcement explains how to get started:

The Elder Justice Initiative (EJI) is pleased to announce the launch of the new Multidisciplinary Team Guide and Toolkit. The Toolkit is designed for anyone looking to create or grow a local elder abuse MDT, regardless of their experience with MDTs. The web-based Toolkit is enhanced for use on mobile devices and contains easy-to-download PDF sample documents and citations.

On May 30, take a live walk through the Toolkit. The EJI webinar will cover many aspects of the Toolkit, including:

  • Layout and usability
  • Highlights from each chapter
  • Questions and feedback

To download the 10 chapter toolkit, click here. To register for the webinar, click here.

 

May 8, 2017 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Webinars | Permalink | Comments (0)

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Spouse & Survivor Benefits for Same Sex Spouses

Justice in Aging has released a new fact sheet, New Guidance from SSA on Spousal & Survivors Benefits for Married LGBT Individuals. "On March 1, 2017, the Social Security Administration (SSA) announced it would reopen any decision to deny spousal or survivors benefits to a same-sex spouse based on a discriminatory marriage ban, which resulted in a loss of benefits to the individual who filed the claim." The fact sheet notes an SSA ruling and POMS.  "This policy change applies to applications for spousal or survivors benefits that SSA denied prior to the Windsor and Obergefell decisions because it did not recognize their marriages. Even those who began receiving SSA benefits following the Supreme Court decisions may be due retroactive benefits for the period between when they first applied (and were denied) and when SSA finally recognized their marriage." The fact sheet also explains who is not affected as well as who might be. The fact sheet concludes explaining that SSA is in the process of reaching out to 800 beneficiaries whose benefits were denied to tell them their applications are being reopened.

Click here to read the full fact sheet.

April 23, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Retirement, Social Security | Permalink | Comments (0)

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

More on Supreme Court Nominee Neil Gorsuch on End-of-Life Issues

Paula Span, the thoughtful columnist on aging issues from the New York Times, offers "Gorsuch Staunchly Opposes "Aid-in-Dying." Does It Matter?"   The article suggests that the "real" battle over aid-in-dying will be in state courts, not the Supreme Court.

I'm in the middle of reading Judge Gorsuch's 2006 book, The Future of Assisted Suicide and Euthanasia. There are many things to say about this book, not the least of which is the impressive display of the Judge's careful sorting of facts, legal history and legal theory to analyze the various advocacy approaches to end-of-life decisions, with or without the assistance of third-parties.  

With respect to what might reach the Supreme Court Court, he writes (at page 220 of the paperback edition): 

The [Supreme Court's] preference for state legislative experimentation in Gonzales [v. Oregon] seems, at the end of the day, to leave the state of the assisted suicide debate more or less where the Court found it, with the states free to resolve the question for themselves.  Even so, it raises interesting questions for at least two future sorts of cases one might expect to emerge in the not-too-distant future.  The first sort of cases are "as applied" challenges asserting a constitutional right to assist suicide or euthanasia limited to some particular group, such as the terminally ill or perhaps those suffering grave physical (or maybe even psychological) pain....

 

The second sort of cases involve those like Lee v. Oregon..., asserting that laws allowing assisted suicide violate the equal protection guarantee...."

While most of the book is a meticulous analysis of law and policy, in the end he also seems to signal a personal concern, writing "Is it possible that the Journal of Clinical Oncology study is right and the impulse for assistance in suicide, like the impulse for old-fashioned suicide, might more often than not be the result of an often readily treatable condition?" 

My thanks to New York attorney, now Florida resident, Karen Miller for pointing us to the NYT article.

February 28, 2017 in Advance Directives/End-of-Life, Consumer Information, Crimes, Dementia/Alzheimer’s, Discrimination, Elder Abuse/Guardianship/Conservatorship, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care, Religion, Science, State Cases, State Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, February 13, 2017

Arbitration Case Before Supreme Court

Mark your calendars. The Supreme Court is hearing oral arguments on February 22, 2017 in the case of Kindred Nursing Centers Limited Partnership, dba Winchester Centre for Health and Rehabilitation, nka Fountain Circle Health and Rehabilitation, et al., Petitioners v. Janis E. Clark, et al., docket # 16-32.

Here is the question presented 

The Federal Arbitration Act (FAA) provides that arbitration agreements "shall be valid, irrevocable, and enforceable, save upon such grounds as exist at law or in equity for the revocation of any contract." 9 U.S.C. § 2 (emphasis added). That provision requires states to "place [] arbitration contracts 'on equal footing with all other contracts."' DIRECTV, Inc. v. Imburgia, 136 S. Ct. 463, 468 (2015) (quoting Buckeye Check Cashing, Inc. v. Cardegna, 546 U.S. 440, 443 (2006)).

The Supreme Court of Kentucky here refused to enforce the parties' arbitration agreements because it held that the attorneys-in-fact who signed those agreements lacked authority to enter into arbitration agreements-despite broad powers of attorney, including the power to make "contracts"-because those agreements waive a "divine God-given right" to a jury trial. App., infra, 43a. The court concluded that only an express mention of arbitration agreements in the power of attorney permits an attorney-in-fact to bind her principal to an arbitration agreement (Ibid.), even though Kentucky law does not require such an express mention of any other type of contract.

The question presented is:

Whether the FAA preempts a state-law contract rule that singles out arbitration by requiring a power of attorney to expressly refer to arbitration agreements before the attorney-in-fact can bind her principal to an arbitration agreement.

 

February 13, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Medicare's Improvement Standard: The Saga Continues

Several years ago CMS entered into a settlement in litigation that has become known as the Jimmo case. CMS agreed that the improvement standard wasn't in fact a standard for determining further Medicare therapy coverage and all was good, or so it seemed. Yet, now we learn it's not, according to a recent story in Kaiser Health News. Medicare’s Coverage Of Therapy Services Again Is In Center Of Court Dispute explains

Four years after Medicare officials agreed in a landmark court settlement that seniors cannot be denied coverage for physical therapy and other skilled care simply because their condition is not improving, patients are still being turned away.

So federal officials and Medicare advocates have renewed their court battle, acknowledging that they cannot agree on a way to fix the problem. Earlier this month, each submitted ideas to the judge, who will decide — possibly within the next few months — what measures should be taken.

The settlement was supposed to be the end of the matter, and instead of the improvement standard,  Medicare was to make the decision as follows, "not ... on the 'potential for improvement from the therapy but rather on the beneficiary’s need for skilled care.'” So in August of last year, the judge ordered the parties to get together to "improve" Medicare's educational initiative for those who deal with the claims and staff hotlines,  as well as the ALJs.   The parties reached an impasse, so it's back to court.

Stay tuned.

February 1, 2017 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, January 9, 2017

Diving Deeper into Approval of Short-Term Annuities in Medicaid Planning

3L Villanova Law Student Jennifer A. Ward has an interesting analysis of the Third Circuit's decision in Zahner v. Sec'y Pa Dept. of Human Servs., 802 F.3d 497 (3d Cir. 2015), published in a recent issue of the Villanova Law Review.  She begins with a summary of the Zahner decision and an outline of her analysis:

[T]he Third Circuit examined whether short-term annuities, a specific instrument used in Medicaid planning, qualified for the DRA's safe harbor provision. If so, assets used to purchase short-term annuities would be sheltered from factoring into individuals' eligibility for Medicaid. Holding that short-term annuities can qualify for protection, the Third Circuit's decision signifies that the DRA did not completely foreclose the “use of short-term annuities in Medicaid planning.”
 
This Casebrief argues that the Third Circuit's Zahner decision is a win for elder law attorneys and their clients, as it solidifies the viability of the use of short-term annuities in Medicaid planning. Part II examines how individuals take part in Medicaid planning, including a discussion of the DRA and the use of annuities in planning. Part III presents the facts of Zahner and reviews the Third Circuit's analysis. Part IV analyzes the Third Circuit's decision to approve the use of short-term annuities. Part V advises elder law practitioners on the use of short-term annuities going forward. Part VI concludes by discussing the long-term viability of short-term annuities.
 
The author recognizes the potential for Congress to change the outcome of the Zahner ruling: 
 
After Zahner, elder law practitioners are free to use short-term annuities while guiding their clients through the Medicaid planning process. The Third Circuit will not bar the use of qualified short-term annuities in Medicaid planning, instead leaving any change in policy to Congress. Therefore, until Congress acts, short-term annuities are a viable planning tool in the Third Circuit for the foreseeable future.For people who wish to leave assets to loved ones, Zahner presents good news. Rather than causing people to exhaust their savings on long-term care, Zahner provides individuals greater ability to protect resources through Medicaid planning.
 
The title of the article is Doctor's Orders: The Third Circuit Approves Short Term Annuities As a Viable Planning Tool, and is available through subscription on Westlaw and Lexis and appears to be forthcoming on a digital commons platform via the Villanova Law Review. 

January 9, 2017 in Estates and Trusts, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, November 7, 2016

Federal District Court Enjoins Pre-Arbitration Dispute Rule

A federal district court in Mississippi has entered an injunction prohibiting the CMS rule against pre-dispute arbitration from taking effect at the end of  this month.  According to a story on NPR, "[t]he reason for granting the injunction, the court explained in its order, is that it believes the new rule represents "incremental 'creep' of federal agency authority" — in this case the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services — 'beyond that envisioned by the U.S. Constitution.'"

The 40 page order is available here.

 

November 7, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

DOJ Settles False Claims Case vs. SNF

DOJ announced recently that it had settled a False Claims case against Life Care Centers of America Inc. (Life Care) and its owner, Forrest L. Preston. The defendants agreed to pay $145 million to settle a case where the Government claimed “that Life Care violated the False Claims Act by knowingly causing skilled nursing facilities (SNFs) to submit false claims to Medicare and TRICARE for rehabilitation therapy services that were not reasonable, necessary or skilled….” In addition, the defendant also signed a Corporate Integrity Agreement with the Office of Inspector General (HHS-OIG) for HHS. Under this 5 year agreement, “an independent review organization [will] … annually assess the medical necessity and appropriateness of therapy services billed to Medicare” by the defendant.  The suit was brought pursuant to the whistleblower provision of the False Claims Act.

According to the suit, the defendant put corporate-wide procedures and polices into place that caused a maximum number of “beneficiaries in the Ultra High reimbursement level irrespective of the clinical needs of the patients, resulting in the provision of unreasonable and unnecessary therapy to many beneficiaries.” Further the defendant tried to keep SNF residents longer than needed so the defendant could continue to bill for rehab, even though the therapists concluded therapy should be ended. The defendant kept careful track of the therapy minutes per patient and the patient’s therapy days so that the maximum number of patients were at that “highest level of reimbursement for the longest possible period.”

According to an email I received, the amount of the settlement was partially based on statistical sampling.

Thanks to Laurence Hooper for emailing me.

October 26, 2016 in Consumer Information, Crimes, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicare | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 17, 2016

Suit Filed Challenging CMS Rule vs. Pre-Dispute Arbitration

We knew it was coming. The American Healthcare Association has filed suit in the federal district court in the Northern District in Mississippi, challenging the CMS rule that prohibits pre-dispute arbitration in nursing home admission contracts, American Health Care Association Files Court Challenge to Arbitration Rule: CMS Exceeds Statutory Authority by Banning Pre-Dispute Arbitration Agreements in Updated Requirements of Participation

The press release explains

The American Health Care Association (AHCA) today filed a lawsuit against the Department of Health and Human Services challenging the legality of a provision of a recently released regulation. The Requirements of Participation final rule, issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on September 29, will prohibit skilled and nursing care facilities from entering into pre-dispute arbitration agreements with residents at their centers, no matter how fair or beneficial those agreements may be to residents.against the Department of Health and Human Services challenging the legality of a provision of a recently released regulation. The Requirements of Participation final rule, issued by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) on September 29, will prohibit skilled and nursing care facilities from entering into pre-dispute arbitration agreements with residents at their centers, no matter how fair or beneficial those agreements may be to residents.

The suit "request[s] the courts [act] to stop the enforcement of the arbitration portion of the rule after its effective date of November 28, 2016." The complaint is available here.

October 17, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care | Permalink | Comments (1)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Structure Unconsitutional

On October 11, 2016, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit ruled in PPH Corp. v. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Although initially conceived as a "multi-member independent agency" in its final form approved by Congress, the CFPB is "an independent agency headed not by a multi-member commission but rather by a single Director. Because the CFPB is an independent agency headed by a single Director and not by a multi-member commission, the Director of the CFPB possesses more unilateral authority – that is, authority to take action on one’s own, subject to no check –than any single commissioner or board member in any other independent agency in the U.S. Government. Indeed, as we will explain, the Director enjoys more unilateral authority than any other officer in any of the three branches of the U.S. Government, other than the President."  The opinion notes the great power held by the director and describes it as "massive in scope, concentrated in a single person, and unaccountable to the President [and thus] triggers the important constitutional question at issue in this case." Examining historical precedent and discussing the lack of checks on the director's power under the current structure which (the court described as a "threat to individual liberty posed by a single-Director independent agency"), the court held "that the CFPB is unconstitutionally structured."

The court looks next at the appropriate remedy, with the Plaintiff arguing the agency should be shuttered. Instead, the court severed the offending language in the statute, to provide "the President ... the power to remove the Director at will, and to supervise and direct the Director."  The court goes on at length (and acknowledges this) to explain its ruling, and to also address the Plaintiff's challenge to the fine imposed against it by the CFPB. 

The CFPB therefore will continue to operate and to perform its many duties, but will do so as an executive agency akin to other executive agencies headed by a single person, such as the Department of Justice and the Department of the Treasury. Those executive agencies have traditionally been headed by a single person precisely because the agency head operates within the Executive Branch chain of command under the supervision and direction of the President. The President is a check on and accountable for the actions of those executive agencies, and the President now will be a check on and accountable for the actions of the CFPB as well.

The opinion is available here.

 

October 12, 2016 in Consumer Information, Current Affairs, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations | Permalink | Comments (0)

Monday, October 10, 2016

Will New Federal Ban on Pre-Dispute "Binding" Arbitration Clauses in LTC Agreements Survive Likely Challenges?

My colleague Becky Morgan provided prompt links and important initial commentary for CMS's recently issued final regulations that are intended to "improve the quality of life, care, and services" in Long-Term Care (LTC) facilities.  As we start to digest the 700+ pages of changes and commentary, it seems clear the battle over a key section that bans pre-dispute binding arbitration agreements is already shaping up.  This rule, at 40 CFR Section 483.70(n), has an implementation date of November 28, 2016.

The regulatory ban on pre-dispute binding arbitration in covered facilities raises the question of "conflict" with the Federal Arbitration Act (FAA), 9 U.S.C. Section 1 et seq.   The 2012 per curium ruling by the Supreme Court in Marmet Health Care Center, Inc. v. Brown, shapes the issue, if not the result. 

CMS distinguishes Marmet and presents the rule change as based on authority granted under the Social Security Act to the Secretary of Health and Human Service to issue "such rules as may be necessary to the efficient administration of the functions of the Department," which necessarily includes supervision of all providers, including LTC providers, who "participate in the Medicare and Medicaid programs."  CMS points to the long history of regulatory authority over LTC including long-celebrated "patient's rights" legislation adopted in the late 1980s.  CMS further explains (at page 399 of the 700 page commentary to the new rules):

Based on the comments received in response to this rulemaking, we are convinced that requiring residents to sign pre-dispute arbitration agreements is fundamentally unfair because, among other things, it is almost impossible for residents or their decision-makers to give fully informed and voluntary consent to arbitration before a dispute has arisen. We believe that LTC residents should have a right to access the court system if a dispute with a facility arises, and that any agreement to arbitrate a claim should be knowing and voluntary. . . . 

 

We recognize that an argument could be made that Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries can assert in Court the FAA's saving clause if they believe that a pre-dispute arbitration agreement should not be enforced. However, the comments we have received have confirmed our conclusion that predispute arbitration clauses are, by their very nature, unconscionable. As one commenter noted, it is virtually impossible for a resident or their surrogate decision-maker to give fully informed or voluntary consent to such arbitration provisions. That same commenter 402 also noted that refusing to agree to the arbitration clause, in most cases, means that care will be denied.

 

Furthermore, Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries are aged or disabled and ill. Many beneficiaries lack the resources to litigate a malpractice claim, much less an initial claim seeking to invalidate an arbitration clause. Rather than requiring Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries to incur the additional fees, expense, and delay that would be the direct cost of opposing a motion to enforce arbitration, we have concluded that this is precisely the type of situation envisioned by the Congressional grant of authority contained in sections 1819(d)(4)(B) and 1919(d)(4)(B) of the Act authorizing the Secretary to establish "such other requirements relating to the health, safety, and well-being of residents or relating to the physical facilities thereof as the Secretary may find necessary.”

By coincidence, just hours before the final LTC rules issued by CMS, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court enforced pre-dispute arbitration agreements for nursing home residents in Taylor v. Extendicare Health Facilities (decided September 28, 2016).  

The LTC industry seems ready to fight, as reported by industry insiders at McKnight's News on September 29, 2016: 

Both the American Health Care Association and LeadingAge expressed disappointment in the arbitration ban in statements provided to McKnight's.

 

“That provision clearly exceeds CMS's statutory authority and is wholly unnecessary to protect residents' health and safety,” said Mark Parkinson, president and CEO of AHCA.

 

LeadingAge has supported arbitration agreements that are “properly structured and allow parties to have a speedy and cost-effective alternative to traditional litigation,” but believes CMS has overstepped its boundaries with the ban, the group said.

 

“Arbitration agreements should be enforced if they were executed separately from the admission agreement, were not a condition of admissions, and allowed the resident to rescind the agreement within a reasonable time frame,” LeadingAge added in its statement.

Stay tuned -- but don't hold your breath as the next round is likely to take some time. My special thanks to Megan Armstrong, Class of 2018 at Dickinson Law, for sharing key links with me for our research on this important development. 

    

October 10, 2016 in Consumer Information, Ethical Issues, Federal Cases, Federal Statutes/Regulations, Health Care/Long Term Care, Medicaid, Medicare, State Statutes/Regulations, Statistics | Permalink | Comments (0)